It’s not about the tyres

I’m a MotoGP novice, on a very steep learning curve. As I watched Sunday’s races in America’s so-called “Rust Belt, at the Brickyard,
Indianapolis, home of Indy 500 and NASCAR 400, the main issue seemed to be tyre management. No, it’s not about choice because, since 2009, all MotoGP riders use made-in-Japan, Bridgestone tyres, while Moto2 and 125cc use British Dunlops. But let’s stick with the blue riband event, since the principles are the same. Given the high temperature on the dry new track surface last Sunday, the riders only [slick] options were:

  • Front: Soft, Medium, Hard.
  • Rear (asymmetric): Hard, Extra Hard

Every rider, bar Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, opted for the softer option rear and the harder option front tyres for the 28-lap race. Hayden’s gamble didn’t pay off. While it’s the combination of rider and bike which determines tyre performance, there were clear differences in tyre durability and consistency between riders using exactly the same tyre specifications.

Allocation of the range of available Bridgestone tyres to each of the MotoGP riders is random and takes place the day before the start of
practice (Thursday in the vast majority of cases) and cannot be changed after 5pm. Restricting tyre choice to one supplier has reduced off-season testing (and related costs) as teams don’t need to experiment with the tyre allowing them to fully concentrate on [experimenting with] the bike.

A typical MotoGP race tyre comprises rubber, high tech plastic fibres, resins and minerals, combined to produce the highest level of performance. The choice of exactly which of the allocated range to use on race day is undertaken by the teams following consultation of the data they, and the tyre supplier, have collected at the track plus discussions with the riders, based on their knowledge of the circuit and expected weather conditions. The feel of the bike on test days, free practice, qualifying and the pre-race warm-up sessions also affects which tyres are selected.

On test days, and during practice sessions, riders often undertake `race simulations,´ where they ride with the sort of tyre they would
expect to use on race day. These exercises are crucial for their team, and the manufacturers, in terms of the data they yield and the feedback they produce. Based on all the available data, on race days, a critical balance has to be achieved between tyre grip and endurance. A soft ‘gripping’
tyre will permit quicker speeds and faster lap times, but will wear out more quickly. A harder, less ‘sticky’ tyre will last longer, but won’t help the rider as much to attain top speeds.

Race tyres are designed to perform optimally for a race distance of around 120km and are normally slicks: far more adhesive, but far
less durable. Race tyres can vary tremendously and, as previously noted, are chosen according to the expected temperature, the type of asphalt, the demands of the bike and the riding style of riders. To complicate matters still further, the requirements for front and rear tyres can vary massively from a technical perspective. Getting the choice right at both ends is critical to success on the track.

Races are categorised as either wet or dry before the start. However, if necessary, their status can be changed during the race. Once a race has been declared wet from the start, riders can come into the pits to change bikes, just so long as they also change the type of tyres. Once used, the tyres are all returned to Bridgestone for analysis and to aid further developments.

However, nothing and no one, prevented Aussie, Casey Stoner, from winning his 7th race of the season, his 3rd consecutive victory, and extending his championship lead to 44 points, with 6 races remaining. Completing the podium was Honda Repsol team mate, Dani Pedrosa in second, and Yamaha Racing’s Ben Spies who, having sunk to ninth place in the first lap, recovered magnificently to climb onto the podium for the third time this season. Same tyre choices, two different chassis and three different riders.

Here’s an explanation of some of the terms used when talking about tyres, courtesy of Bridgestone:-

Asymmetric tyres: These are only available as rear tyres. Asymmetric slicks comprise a harder compound in one shoulder and a
softer compound in the other designed for circuits which create higher tyre temperatures in one shoulder than the other, usually because of an imbalance of right and left-handed corners.

Bead: Serves as an anchor to hold the tyre securely to the wheel rim.

Belts: Belts are one of the core components of tyres. They may be steel, nylon, polyester or other such materials, and form a literal belt around the tyre to strengthen the tread area and to make the tyre puncture resistant.

Camber angle

Camber angle: Measured in degrees, camber is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel at its uppermost point when compared with the true vertical line at the centreline of the wheel. In MotoGP, camber angle has the same meaning as lean angle. Generally, the greater the lean angle, the higher the lateral force and so the greater the demand on the tyres.

Carbon black: A molecular structure found in all racing tyres, carbon black is a black powder substance produced by burning oils in a furnace. It provides strength and also produces the familiar black colour of tyres. There are hundreds of kinds of carbon black and each will produce a
compound with certain properties: improved traction, hardness, wear and so on.

Compound: Formed by a mixture of various elements used by tyre manufacturers to produce the surface layer of a race tyre, the compound’s properties vary with the exact blend of ingredients. It is the compound that is in contact with the track and therefore one of the major
factors in deciding tyre performance, being a trade-off between outright grip and durability.

Construction: The way in which the component parts (belt, cords, tread, sidewall) of a tyre are constructed determines its ability to absorb shocks, transmit traction and braking forces and to provide strength to contain inflation pressure. The nature of a tyre is dependent upon the way
in which the component parts are laid and assembled.

High-side: This where the rear tyre loses grip, either because of slippery conditions, insufficient temperature, too much throttle applied by the rider or a number of other reasons, and slides sideways . The rear then grips and tries to snap back into line with the front wheel, and the force often throws the rider off the bike.

Low-side: In a low-side crash, the front tyre will most commonly lose grip mid-corner, either because of excess corner speed, insufficient temperature and too great a lean angle or a number of other reasons, and the bike will slide out from beneath the rider.

Polymers: One of the core components of rubber, from one of two main groups: natural or synthetic.

Sidewall: The sidewall is the most important element in transferring engine power to the tyres as it connects the wheel rim to the tyre tread, and therefore the track surface.

Tyre warmer: A warming device designed to maintain a uniform temperature throughout the tyre.

Viva La Vuelta IV

Today’s individual time trial takes place in Salamanca, the capital of the Spanish province of the same name in the region of Castilla-Leon, located  118 kilometres east of the Portuguese border and 204 kilometres to the north west of Madrid. This is a beautiful historic city boasting the oldest university in Spain and some truly magnificent ancient buildings. Its streets and plazas are brimming with history and humming with vibrancy thanks to the large Spanish and foreign student population. UNESCO has declared the entire city a world heritage site and in 2002, along with Bruges, it was a European Capital of Culture.

They call Salamanca “La Dorada” ( the Golden City) because its buildings are made from the Villamayor golden sandstone which shimmers with ever-changing hues according to the position and strength of the sun. Even the more modern buildings have been constructed from this special stone which at times appears almost golden though you might also see shades of ochre, red, pink and yellow depending on the sunlight. It’s also called the Land of the Bulls because Spain’s fighting bulls are reared in the pastures beyond the city.

Salamanca’s historic centre is confined to a smallish area, surrounded by wide roads that keep most of the traffic out. There is something beautiful to see around every corner. First stop, the Plaza Mayor, arguably the finest main square in Spain, and where today’s stage finishes, dating from the early 18th century,  is the heart of the city, to which all roads seemingly lead, and is surrounded by colonnaded walkways containing 88 semi-circular arches. Most of the arches contain cafes and bars, whose tables spill out on to the square.

While Salamanca had been important in Roman times and the centuries thereafter, the turning point in its history was 1218, when the university was founded. The period around the end of the 15th century was the city’s high point, which lasted well into the 17th century. The architecture from this era remains throughout the city, and it seems every street has a building decorated with elaborate plateresque (lavishly ornamental) and Renaissance plasterwork.

I have spent most of the Vuelta keeping a look out for my two friends who are riding. Both perform similar support functions within their teams and. therefore, unsurprisingly are positioned well within the pack and not too far apart from one another on GC. While both are good time-triallists, they prefer a more undulating parcours. Today is definitely one for the specialists: Cancellara, Martin, Phinney and Grabsch. These four will have fresher legs than some of the GC contenders. Nonetheless, I would expect Bradley Wiggins to challenge strongly and seize the opportunity to put time into his GC opponents.

Individual time trials: just a man and his bike, against the clock. Well, not exactly, you also have to ride quicker than the competition. The later you start, in theory, the better as you’ve everyone else’s time checks. The weather conditions are secondary as the GC contenders all ride within a short time period of one another. This is the only individual time-trial and coming midway in the tour will give those who will inevitably lose time here today an opportunity to attack in the remaining stages. This time-trial puts riders such as JRod on the back foot but potentially could lead to exciting racing in the coming days.

I think it’s fair to say that today’s stage went pretty much as anticipated with one very BIG exception.  Tony Martin won the stage but the man in second place pulled on the red jersey. No, it wasn’t Wiggo, he’s 3rd on GC. It was, surprise, surprise, his Kenyan born, UK registered Sky team mate, Chris Froome ,who has been ever-present at Bradley’s side during the Vuelta. Has this set the cat among the pigeons, or what? It’s certainly got the British presenters waxing lyrical about Robert Millar in his heyday, and his successes in the same race.

How did my friends fare? Amazingly, they finished one after the other.

Here’s the top 20 on GC after today’s stage:-

General classification after stage 10
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 38:09:13
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:12
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:20
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:31
5 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:34
6 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:59
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:07
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:47
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:04
10 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:02:13
11 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:15
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:21
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:35
14 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:23
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
16 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:03:28
17 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:47
18 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:03:52
19 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:59
20 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:04:07
 

Sheree’s sporting snippets

Here’s a few things, in no particular order, that have caught my eye in recent days:-

Martial Arts

Aged 98, Keiko Fukuda is the first Japanese woman to receive a coveted red belt in Judo. The other seven holders of said belt are male. You wouldn’t want to mug this old lady, now would you? Judo obviously helps you stay youthful, in the accompanying photo she looks no more than mid-60s. So, level with us Keikisan what’s your secret?

At the other end of the age spectrum, France’s 22-year old Teddy Riner  has just won his 5th world title. One of my favourite moments from this year’s Tour de France was when Teddy dropped in for a visit and everyone had to crane their necks to look up at all 2.03m of him. Teddy, weighing in at 131kgs, about the same as Joaquim Rodriguez and Tom Boonen combined, fights in the 100kg+ category and took just 11mins 16secs to dispose of the competition, roughly less than 2 mins per man. Again, someone else you really wouldn’t want to mess with.

The Beautiful Game

OGCN drew 0-0 at home to Brest, a match they should surely have won. In any event, they’re now out of the drop zone. Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue drew 0-0 at home to neighbours Wolves. Villa recorded their lowest gate since December 2006, just 30,776. One of whom was England manager Fabio Capello, no doubt checking on the form of Darren Bent. He would have left disappointed. I’m finding it more and more difficult to get enthused about football. Attendance at a live match is long overdue.

Motorised Wheels

Michael Schumacher crashed in the wet, in Spa, home of the Belgian GP, and on his favourite circuit. Not, I fancy, how he wanted to celebrate his 20th anniversary in F1. He started today from the back of the field sucking everyone else’s exhaust fumes. His German compatriot took the laurels today.

Another man facing a back of the field start today, was the Doctor. Yes, Valentino Rossi, after falling in qualifying, looked to be heading for the back row but he managed to pull out a couple of reasonable laps and move up 3 places to 14th. His miserable season continues. Can anyone fix Ducati’s bikes?

Under your own steam

The World Athletics are being beamed to us from Daegu in S Korea. Either the tickets were too expensive, the Koreans don’t care for athletics or the man in charge of their distribution gave them all to sponsors. Whatever, Usain Bolt was playing to an empty stadium the other evening. He’ll have found that a bit disconcerting, but it didn’t seem to put him off his stride. I spoke too soon, the news from Daegu is of his disqualification for a false start in the 100m final, in front of a packed stadium. His countryman Yohan Blake took gold.

Hurricane Irene, currently lashing New York, has forced the postponement of the start of the UK Open where Novak Djokovic is hoping to add to his Grand Slam tally and Rafa Nadal is hoping to retain his title. In 2008, Hurricane Ike, caused the Red Bull Indiannapolis Moto2 race to be cancelled, halted the 125cc round in its tracks, while the MotoGP took place on wet tracks.

Hurricanes are given names to eliminate confusion when there are multiple systems in an area at the same time. In most cases, it retains its name throughout its life. The names are taken from alphabetical lists decided upon either by committees of the  World Meteorological Organisation or by national weather offices involved in the forecasting of the storms. Each year, the names of particularly destructive storms (if there are any) are “retired” and new names are chosen to take their place. Different countries have different local conventions; for example, in Japan, storms are referred to by number (each year), such as 台風第9号 (Typhoon #9).

The Velo

While my attention has been focused fair and square on the Vuelta, it’s not the only event taking place on two non-motorised wheels. Yesterday, I caught sight of the procession of the riders who had taken part in the inaugural Haute Route from Geneva to Nice, enjoying the final few

That’s a lot of climbing!

kilometers of their endeavours, as they headed towards the Promenade des Anglais. They looked in remarkably good spirits given that  in just 7 sweltering days they’d ridden 730kms and climbed 17,000m up 15 legendary mountains. I’d love to have taken part but my coach felt that it might just be a wee bit too ambitious: maybe next year. Congratulations and well done to all the 234 finishers.

Staying with the amateurs, this week’s Paris-Brest-Paris premier participants took just 44h 13 mins to complete the 1,231 kms, an average speed of just under the permitted maximum average of 28km/hr. Around 57% of the entrants were non French. Following verification, the official results will be published in early September.

The neo-pros have been lighting up the Tour du Poitou Charentes which was won by Radioshack’s Kiwi, Jesse Sergent who took Stage 4’s ITT. Stages were won by, among others, Sky’s neo-pros Davide Appollonio and Alex Dowsett. Movistar bound Giovanni Visconti of the impeccably, aerodynamically, plucked eyebrows won the GP Industria e Commercio Artigianato Carnaghese. Is this the race with the longest name? Over the pond, Radioshack’s Levi Leipheimer seems to have sewn up the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, being held at altitude, in Colarado.

Spectators were out in force for today’s 248.3km, circuit race,  GP de Plouay, held under a heavily overcast sky, in the heartland of French cycling. French riders were hoping to catch to the eye of team selector Laurent Jalabert and book a berth for the World Championhips in Copenhagen. We had a trade mark attack from Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler in the dying kilometers but it was all too little, too late, as Lampre’s Grega Bole had pinged off the front just before Tommy and held on to win. The first Slovenian to do so.

Meanwhile back in Spain, on the long and difficult slog up to La Covatilla, the first real summit finish of this year’s Vuelta, the Brits took charge. Sky’s Bradley Wiggins forced the pace and Garvelo’s Brummie, Dan Martin, nipped out of the leading bunch to take a well-deserved stage win. Second placed youngster, Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema lifted the red leader’s jersey from a struggling JRod, who conceded pretty much all the time he’d gained the previous day. My contact was right, Brad is in the form of his life. I await tomorrow’s time trial with interest.

CAS have announced that Contador’s hearing will take place 21-24 November. I’m assuming, rightly or wrongly, they mean November 2011.

Get on your bike

Guess what’s the one thing that forcibly strikes me on my infrequent trips back to the UK: cyclists. Yes, they’re everywhere, where once there were none or very few. Bike hire schemes, cycle networks, large scale cycling events, bike shops on every corner etc etc. Britain’s gone bike mad. My view has been reinforced by a recent study called the “The British Cycling Economy”commissioned by Sky and British Cycling, and carried out by no less an august body than the London School of Economics. Actually, it’s a good read. A very well thought out and reasoned report which estimates that cycling’s contribution to the UK economy in 2010 amounted to GBP2.9bn. While some of its recommendations shouldn’t come as a surprise, it does make some interesting observations about the long term sustainability of cycling and its potential overall contribution to UK Plc.

When I lived in the UK, I had a bike. Not to ride for pleasure, you understand. It was Plan B in the event of a transport strike. When I acquired it I lived in Chiswick, 10 miles from where I worked in the City. On the few occasions I was obliged to ride to work, I did so with my heart in my mouth. Particularly once I exited Hyde Park and headed down The Mall towards Embankment and the City. When I moved to Bayswater, only 5 miles from my office, I opted to walk on strike days: so much safer. I was what the report identifies as a “hesitant cyclist”. I had the means and wherewithal to cycle, female, aged between 35-44 but fearful for my safety: too damn right.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I firmly believe if more people cycle, the roads become safer. This is because most cyclists are also motorists and cycling gives them a greater understanding of the dangers faced by cyclists in all environments. Too many other road users lack the necessary patience to wait the 30-odd seconds it takes for a cyclist to pass by safely. They’d rather risk killing or maiming us than wait.  The report identifies traffic calming measures as rendering the roads safer whereas anyone who cycles will tell you the complete opposite, as motorists become desperate to pass you lest they get trapped behind you as the road width is narrowed by said traffic calming. It’s no coincidence that the country with the greatest amount of traffic furniture has separate cycle tracks for cyclists: Holland.

When people ask me why I cycle, I trot out any number of reasons, depending on who asks. But primarily I started cycling to regain my former fitness. Yes, cycling helps you to get fit.  Bit of a no-brainer that one. According to the report, “the UK leads Europe in the number of sick days taken each year”. The report speculates, based on the results of a similar study in Holland, that if more people cycled regularly the average would fall, giving rise to a saving of GBP1-1.6 bn. over the next 10 years. The key word here is “regular”, defined in the report as someone who cycles at least once a month.

I’m a regular cyclist, I cycle most days and around 15,000km a year. Someone who cycles once a month is an “occasional” cyclist.  You are not going to get fit cycling once a month. Exercise needs to be undertaken regularly, at least 3 times a week. But it’s a move in the right direction. The powers that be are targeting initiatives at women and children, since 70% of all cycle trips are currently made by men. For this group the paramount concern is safety. But get these segments cycling and you’ll have whole families taking to two wheels which is surely the end game.

The cycling demographics in UK, and USA for that matter, are different to those in S. Europe. I say this based on my recent experiences of riding Livestrong in 2009 and London-Paris in 2010. In both these countries, cycling is a white collar sport practiced by the young, professional classes with plenty of money to indulge their passion. In southern Europe, while pretty much everyone has a bike of some sort and cycles, it’s still an unashamedly blue-collar sport.

One rather extravagant claim made by British Cycling made me smile. The director of recreation and partnerships, based on Britain’s success on the track, said ” We’ve become the best cycling nation on the planet”. I’m sure there’s some countries who would beg to differ, but let’s not go there. Frankly, the UK, which should be lauded for its efforts, is playing catch up and is following a successful model established some years ago by a number of northern European countries who wanted to ape the countries in cycling’s traditional heartlands: France, Spain and Italy.

That’s not to say everything is rosy in France, far from it. Although pretty much everyone cycles, and the many Federations responsible for cycling are reporting increasing numbers taking up licences, it’s proving more and more difficult to recruit at the younger end of the cycling spectrum. For example, we’re struggling to find funding for our part-time Directeur Sportif who has coached our junior team with great success this season. We don’t need a full-time DS but government funds are only available for full-time positions. Equally, we have no volunteers next season for the cycling school for which frankly we had too few participants this year. Our efforts to significantly lower the average age of our membership, are floundering amidst indifference. Great Britain may well find its first Tour de France winner before France provides its first since Bernard Hinault.

Viva La Vuelta III

I rode with my coach yesterday morning; always a pleasure never a chore. Despite choosing a route with plenty of shade, it was extremely warm, particularly towards midday. These are the (only) times when you actively seek out a head wind but, as soon as it’s a tail wind, you can really feel the temperature. Yesterday’s exercises included bruising 20 seconds sprint intervals followed by an all too brief 20 seconds respite. The idea is to start at a reasonable pace, then build the speed and intensity until the few final sprints, where you’re aiming for close to maximum heart rate. I achieved this with ease. I wasn’t quite seeing stars, just almost.

On reaching Pont sur Loup, the choice was either to head up to Bar sur Loup before returning by way of Vallon Rouge or to return via Tourettes sur Loup. I chose the former, fearing I might be tempted to leap into the water trough if I took the latter route. My coach, who never normally sheds a bead of sweat when riding with me, opted for a cooling dip in the sea before heading on home. To be fair, he had been training with some of his marathon runners for an hour or two before riding on over to meet me.

I slipped out early for today’s recovery ride and had a quick dip in the pool on my way back before checking on the progress of the club’s walking/hobbling and wheel-chair bound wounded. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve not been having a good season with respect to injuries, on and off the bike. However, we’ve fared better than one local club who’ve had two recent fatalities.

Neither a dip in the sea or a cool fountain have been on offer to the riders in the Vuelta where the temperatures are, on average, 10 degrees higher than here. The landscape through which they’ve been riding is dry and parched, dotted here and there with with cool turquoise jewels aka swimming pools. I’m surprised no one has slipped off for a quick swim or maybe they have, hence the large time differences. While almost everyone, except maybe burly Belgians, prefers to ride in the warm sunshine, these very high temperatures are taking their toll on some of the riders.

Igor Anton, a man more used to the temperate climes of the Basque country, is quietly suffering at the back of the main bunch, conceding time here and there. Is it the weather? He certainly isn’t in the same form as he was last year, but why not? Frankly, we don’t know and can only conjecture. Meanwhile, both Joaquim Rodriguez and defending champion Vincenzi Nibali look in great shape and are riding with  purpose and confidence. As is Bradley Wiggins whom I have on very good authority is in the form of his life and weighs the same as when he was 16! I’m going to be keeping a close eye on him. The same source said that Frandy are going to be training on the Cote d’Azur this winter. Never mind the hills boys, practise your downhill skills and time-trialling.

Yesterday we saw Joaquin Rodriguez charging up that final 27% ramp, followed by Vacansoleil’s Grand Tour rookie Wout Poels trailed by  Katusha team mate Daniel Moreno, at the same speed I tackle 7% (yes, really).  JRod had been overhauled on the same finish last year by firstly Igor Anton and then Vicenzo Nibali. This year he showed he’d learnt his lesson well and impeccably timed his effort and used Moreno to good effect. Having bombed with their 100% Russian squad in the Tour, Katusha are looking the business with the inclusion of their Spanish riders for the Vuelta.

I was willing on David Moncoutie but his downhilling skills let him down. The Vuelta handily advises us from time to time of the riders’ speeds and the gradient. He was descending on a wide, non-technical, road with a great surface at between 60-75kph. Even I would have taken him on that descent, let alone the professional peloton who easily gobbled him up on the final ascent. As this might be his last year as a professional, I hope he manages to bag the King of the Mountains for a 4th successive time. He collected more points in that quest today.

Despite suffering in the heat, and helping Chavanel to defend the red leader’s jersey, Quickstep’s Boonen was looking to win today’s stage into Cordoba. I don’t think so Tom, I fancy a somewhat punchier rider for the finish. Today the final descent proved decisive, with the Liquigas boys in lime-green swooping down at 89kph: that’s more like it. Veteran Pablo Lastras threatened to spoil the party and steal the 20 seconds bonus so Vuelta babe Peter Sagan crossed the line (much to Nibali’s chagrin) to take his first (of many) Grand Tour win ahead of Lastras and team mate Agnoli, leaving Nibali sans bonus seconds. Chavanel clings onto the jersey for another day.

GC now looks like this:-

General classification after stage 6
# Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 22:41:13
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:15
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:16
4 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:23
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:25
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:41
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:44
8 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:49
9 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:52
11 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:53
12 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:57
13 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
14 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:00
15 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:01
16 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:05
17 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:13
18 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:21
19 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
20 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:26
21 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:01:43
22 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:50
23 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:53
24 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:58
25 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:13
26 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:15
27 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
28 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:34
29 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:41
30 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:02:44

Taste of heaven (and hell)

One of my (many) favourite French cakes is a Paris-Brest first created in 1891 to commemorate the race of the same name. No one knows exactly who first created the confection but evidently, on seeing the first race, he was so inspired that he made this tyre-shaped choux pastry filled with
praline crème patissiere and crème chantilly, mimicking the newly invented inner tubes of the day and topped with roasted almonds and icing sugar to represent the dust from the road.

Last Sunday, 5,225 (fool) hardy souls set off to ride 1,200kms from Paris to Brest and back again; a gruelling challenge of one’s cycling stamina and competence. Paris-Brest-Paris is run every four years by the Audax Club Parisien and it’s the oldest event still run on a regular basis on the open road. Participants prove their ability to complete P-B-P by taking part in a series of 4 lengthy qualifying events. If successful, they’re to complete the 1,200kms course within 90 hours, whatever the climatic conditions, ensuring only the (fool)hardiest randonneurs earn the prestigious P-B-P finisher’s medal and have their names entered into the event’s annals.

I thought it therefore only fitting to supply you with a very indulgent  recipe for this uber-delicious confection.

A little slice of heaven

(The recipe makes 15–16 individual cakes)

For the choux pastry

125ml water
125ml milk
125g unsalted butter,
12g caster sugar
160g plain flour, sifted
2g salt
250g whole eggs, beaten
Egg wash
100g flaked almonds

 

 

 

For the praline crème

225ml whipping cream
100ml milk
80g egg yolks
30g caster sugar
180g fine dark 65% chocolate, chopped
75g Gianduja chopped
75g Praline paste
25g unsalted butter, softened

For the chocolate pastry cream

500ml milk
1/2 vanilla pod, split
120g egg yolks
100g caster sugar
40g plain flour, sifted
40g cocoa powder
50g fine dark 70% chocolate

For the crème chantilly

250g whipping cream
250g double cream
1/2 vanilla pod
35g icing sugar

To finish

80g hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped

1. First, make the choux pastry:

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C for fan assisted). Heat the water, milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan. Bring up to the boil. Take the pan off the heat, and add the flour and salt. Stir until completely combined. Return to the hob, reduce the heat to low and continue stirring until the dough leaves the sides of the pan. Take off the heat and leave the dough to cool, for 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gradually add the eggs into the dough and mix until smooth. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 14mm plain nozzle. Pipe 15rings measuring 6cm in diameter onto a baking tray lined with a non-stick baking mat. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 160C (140C for fan assisted) and bake for a further 10–15 minutes until golden. Do not open the oven during baking as the rings may collapse. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

2. Second, make the praline crème:

In a saucepan, heat the cream and milk until boiling. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light. Pour half of the boiling liquid into the egg mixture, whisk until mixed and then transfer all of the egg yolk mixture back to the saucepan. Continuously stir until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, taking care not to overcook. Take off the heat and pass through a fine sieve into a bowl containing the chocolates and praline paste, stir until fully incorporated. Add the butter and mix until smooth. Pour into a shallow dish, wrap with cling film, cool rapidly and leave to fully set.

3. Third, make the chocolate pastry cream:

Put the milk and the vanilla in a saucepan and boil. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture slightly thickens. Add the flour and cocoa powder and whisk again until smooth. Pour half of the infused milk into the mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Pass this mixture through a fine sieve, return the mixture back to the remaining milk in the pan. Continuously whisk until it comes to a boil then reduce the temperature to a simmer. Continue to stir and cook for 5–6 minutes. Take off the heat, add in the chocolate and stir until it has completely melted. Pour the pastry cream onto a shallow dish or tray, wrap with cling film and cool rapidly.

4. Lastly, make the crème chantilly.

Whisk together the creams, vanilla seeds and sugar until stiff.

5. To assemble and finish:

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C for fan assisted). Slice the choux rings in half horizontally and set on baking trays. Place in the oven for 1–2 minutes to crisp up. Remove and leave to cool. Spoon the praline crème into a piping bag fitted with a 12mm plain nozzle and pipe a ring on top of each choux ring base. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts. Spoon the chocolate pastry cream into a piping bag with a 12mm plain nozzle and pipe a layer of cream on top of the praline crème. Spoon the crème chantilly into another piping bag with a 10mm fluted nozzle and pipe swirls on top of the pastry cream. Top with the other halves of the rings and press down slightly so that the lids are stable. Pipe a rosette of crème chantilly on top of each ring, dust lightly with icing sugar and decorate with chocolate.

(recipe courtesy of William Curley)

Viva La Vuelta II

I’m currently enjoying a heat wave. Probably not ideal climatic conditions for cycling, just ask Mark Cavendish if you don’t believe me. To be fair, Spain is even hotter than here. When I say here, I don’t actually mean just here, I mean the whole of Southern France. Typically, temperatures reach low 30sC during August and start to tail off toward the end of the month. Instead, it’s gotten hotter. I’ve spent the past few days in Aix-en-Provence but as it’s inland it was even hotter than here. Now I do mean just here. Very pleasant it was too.

The combination of the trip and the heat does not account for my recent lack of blogging, no that was occasioned by my beloved demanding my translation services. I had to translate his most recent presentation into French. It was somewhat technical and not even my large Petit Robert could cope. I dropped him off at Marseille airport late this afternoon on my way home, he’s not due back until Friday evening. This will give me enough time to cook the club’s books, I mean prepare the latest accounts.

I like cycling when it’s warm but, when the temperature soars, I have problems with my feet overheating and managing my hydration. I’m sitting here now thinking about a cold shower before bed while admiring the firework display in Cannes from the office window. It’s also giving me an opportunity to reflect on the first few days of the Vuelta. Oh yes, I may have been away but I would never book a hotel that didn’t give me access to televised cycling. At home I watch it on the Spanish channel but ,while I’ve been away, I’ve had to make do with German Eurosport where the commentary is rather more prosaic and far less excitable.

It’s been a rather curious start. The team time trial in Benidorm threw up some unexpected results largely due to mechanicals, falls and the technical nature of the course. Teams which one might have expected to feature in the top 5, such as Garmin-Cervelo, Team Sky and Radioshack didn’t and Euskaltel-Euskadi fared way better than anyone could have hoped for: 12th. All those team practice sessions paid dividends for the boys in orange. The red leader’s jersey passed from defending champion, Liquigas’s Vicenzo Nibali to Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang.

Sunday’s stage from La Nucia to Playas de Orihuela, with it’s uphill sprint for the line, was a face saver for Team Sky: 20th Saturday, on the podium Sunday with Chris Sutton. Great performance in front of the only audience that counts: his Mum.  Fuglsang passed the red leader’s jersey to team mate, Daniele Bennati. Yesterday, the veteran Pablo Lastras (Movistar), one of the day’s breakaways,  gave  the most extravagent finishing line salutes in Totana I’ve ever seen to dedicate his win to the late Messrs Tondo and Weylandt and, still recovering, team mate Soler. He topped the podium and took over the leader’s red jersey.

Another day, another stage this time atop the Sierra Nevada today after a 23km slog uphill. Nothing too taxing but in this heat a number were starting to wilt. Cavendish abandonned. Lastras and Euskaltel’s Igor Anton found it hard to keep pace with the leading pack. Today’s chancer was Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, who was let off the leash by team leader, Joaquim Rodriguez, while most of the leading contenders were watching and waiting. The red jersey ended up on the shoulders of Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel who finished 2nd yesterday and heroically almost kept pace with the leading contenders today. Will anyone manage to hang onto the jersey for more than a day? Given that the action is largely in the first two weeks, maybe “not yet” is the answer to that question.

We’ve only just started and already a number of fancied (but not by me) riders are out of the running: Tony Martin +32:55, Andreas Kloden +31:28, Peter Sagan +24:54 and Rein Taaramae +17:56. Here’s the current top 30, the winner’s in here:-

General classification after stage 4
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 13:19:09
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:43
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:49
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:53
6 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:00:58
7 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:59
8 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:03
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team
10 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:01:04
11 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:06
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:07
13 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:14
14 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:17
15 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:01:18
16 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack
17 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:19
18 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
19 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:01:21
20 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:31
21 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
22 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:32
23 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:39
24 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack
25 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:52
26 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:11
27 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:02:20
28 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:22
29 Ruslan Pydgornyy (Ukr) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
30 Davide Malacarne (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:02:24

Viva La Vuelta I

The Vuelta a Espana, the 3rd and last of the Grand Tours, starts tomorrow. It’s the 17th running of the race since it was moved from its original springtime slot to the autumn. As a consequence of its place in the cycling calendar, many of the top riders give it a miss. It tends to be targeted more by domestic riders, as a number in the peloton will have effectively hung up their cleats for the season, while other participants will use it to fine tune their preparation for the World Championships, at the end of September, and therefore may not finish the race. Not so this year, as a number, whose ambitions in the Tour de France were dashed by injury, are riding the Vuelta. So this edition promises to be way more exciting but the lack of time-trialling kilometers and numerous steep summit finishes favour the 60kg when wet brigade, all largely Spanish.

This typically perceived lack of depth tends to give the Vuelta less credence than its sibling Tours and, as a consequence, the owners of the Vuelta (Unipublic and now ASO) have tried to inject some excitement into the race, such as last year’s night time TTT in Seville. This year’s novelty sees the Vuelta’s first visit to the Basque country in 33 years and I’ll be there to watch those two stages (19 and 20) before the final leg in Madrid on Sunday 11 September. For a concise and articulate rundown on the Vuelta and it’s likely protagonists, can I suggest you pop over to http://thearmchairsportsfan.com.

This year’s race starts in Benidorm which brings back fond memories of a family holiday there when I was 14, many, many moons ago, and my pink fringed bikini. I thought I looked the bee’s knees, and the local male population seemed to concur. My father never let down his guard once, which was probably just as well.

Benidorm

Anyway, back to the Vuelta’s 3rd visit to Benidorm, one of Spain’s most popular tourist resorts lying on the eastern Mediterranean coastline between Valencia and Alicante, in the province of Valencia, in a region better known as the Costa Blanca. It’s split into four areas: The Old Town, Levante, Poniente, and Rincon de Loix.

Benidorm’s Old Town is a maze of cobbled streets populated with bars, restaurants and shops situated on the promontory that separates the 2 main beaches. This was the original fishing village which mutated into a tourist mecca thanks to those long, lovely beaches.

The Levante beach area, with over 2kms of golden sand, awash with hotels, theme parks and night clubs, is for the young at heart. It merges into Rincon de Loix, the newer part of Benidorm, which with its mixture of hotels and apartments is popular with the British. The refurbished and recently revitalised Poniente beach lies west of Benidorm’s old Town.

Stage 1 parcours

Tomorrow’s team time trail actually starts from a ramp on the beach before dipping and then heading back to the coast. With the Spanish still on holiday, and at the b each, expect massive crowds the length of the parcours. It’s short, just 13.5km, so any time differences are sure to be small and not decisive. Nonetheless, riders with GC ambitions, such as Igor Anton from Euskaltel, will start stage 2 on the back foot as his team will most probably finish among the slowest. Tipped for tomorrow’s win will be teams such as HTC High Road, Garmin Cervelo and Radioshack.

My interest in the Vuelta has increased because two professional riders I know really well are taking part. While it would be fantastic to see them take a stage, they’ll be riding selflessly in support of their respective leaders, even if one of them is his country’s road race champion. They’re the type of rider that every team leader would like to have in their team and I hope this’ll be recognised when it comes to both of them getting new contracts for next season.

Trifling pleasures

My beloved returned on Friday evening feeling a bit fatigued from an exhausting schedule of meetings. Yesterday, given he hadn’t ridden for a week, we had a pleasurable 65km meander around the area. Week ends I’m happy to follow his lead as I’ve plenty of opportunity to practise my prescribed exercises during the week. We’ll probably do a ride of a similar length today in the company of our friend who’s recovering from a collision with a car a few month’s back. Then it’ll be back up the Col de Vence on Monday morning before my afternoon departure to the UK.

We had dinner with a group of friends yesterday evening on the beach. It was a fun evening. With all three girls contributing to the veritable feast, no one was overburdened with work. I had prepared guacamole to stave off their hunger pangs while I cooked the burgers in our friend’s nearby apartment. She provided the accompanying chips and ice cream dessert while our other friend made a trio of delicious salads. The boys enjoyed being waited on hand and foot and worked off any excess calories with a swim and games of waterpolo, football and volleyball. This is my second trip to the beach in recent weeks, and something of a record for me, however the silly cycling sun tan lines persist.  I was in good company yesterday with five out of eight of us bearing similarly distinguishing marks.

Our friend is off on Wednesday to take part in the Vuelta during which he’ll be absent for his wife’s birthday, an occupational hazard. As a consequence, we’re all getting together again this evening for sushi at their place. This is something I have never attempted to make but his wife is a superb cook, so I know it’ll be fabulous. This time I’ve offered to make dessert. I had thought about something vaguely Japanese, such as green tea ice cream, which I adore. But it’s an acquired taste, so I’ll probably make more of a crowd pleaser and something which will appeal to their two hollow legged sons. I have some lemon scented sponge hangingabout in the cake tin which when drenched in my special liquer-enhanced raspberry sauce and then covered in layers of fresh raspberries, custard and cream will make a rather sinful ending to a virtuous dinner.

After this morning’s ride, my beloved and I will be checking out the final stage of the Eneco Tour which has turned into a rather more absorbing contest than anticipated. This race is generally won by a good time-triallist, another one of whom may win this year. Former race winner, Sky’s Edvald Boassen Hagen is currently leading while Garvelo’s David Millar and BMC rookie and prologue winner Taylor Phinney are respectively third and fourth on GC . Up there in the mix, and for whom today’s stage (22 bergs) might have been specifically planned, is Thursday’s stage winner, Classics King, PhilGil who is 12 seconds back. It’s going to be close but Belgium might be just about to get it’s first winner of this race.

Over in the Tour de L’Ain, Vuelta-bound David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in search of a 4th consecutive mountain’s jersey, took the GC from Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) on the final day’s stage which was won by his much younger compatriot, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The Vuelta’s looking a more interesting race this year with a number of riders who exited the Tour early thanks to injuries (Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van Den Broeck) deciding to contest the final three week stage race of the year. On the other side of the pond, ahead of tomorrow’s final stage, RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer seems to have a lock on the leader’s jersey. in the Tour of Utah.

When I’m going to fit in watching today’s MotoGP racing from Brno in the Czech Republic has yet to be determined. It would appear as if I’ve been ignoring my most recent sporting interest, I haven’t. It’s just that I’ve not had time to do it justice in my blog, but I will. I promise. I managed to catch a bit of the qualifying yesterday. Dani Pedrosa has seized his first pole start of the season in MotoGP, while Marc Marquez has his 3rd consecutive pole in Moto2 and Nico Terol, as usual, is on pole in 125cc class.

The perfect brownie

Pretty much everyone loves brownies. What’s not to like? We’re talking squidgy, rich, chocolatey mouthfuls here not small girls in brown outfits and berets. Just when I think I’ve perfected the ultimate brownie, I find yet another recipe I absolutely have to try. I’ve made plenty of variations but somehow you can’t beat the classic one, or so I thought. A couple of recent recipes were prompted by the discovery at the back of the fridge of a half-empty jar of crunchy peanut butter, well within it’s use by date. I turned to my Martha Stewart cookie and tray bake bible and there was a recipe for peanut butter brownies. It sounded a little too rich for my taste so, as is often the case, I tweaked it a bit. There’s something very seductive about dark chocolate, nuts and salt. I love dipping salted pretzels into dark melted chocolate and frequently make rocky road with salted cashews (among other things) – truly divine.

Usually, recipes such as these are tested on my English class. To be honest, they’re not the most discerning of taste testers but they are disarmingly honest. I made this recent recipe for our army of volunteers to keep their spirits (and energy) up. Actually, I made two batches. The afore-mentioned ones with dark chocolate and peanut butter and, some blondies, with white chocolate and peanut butter. I am now officially out of peanut butter and have used up the last of my white chocolate chips. Both recipes were very well received but the blondies were less sweet, less dense and chewier. The adults preferred these. The other recipe was, in my opinion, still a bit too rich, but the kids loved them.

We’re having a beach BBQ party this week end with friends who have a divine apartment close to the beach in Beaulieu sur Mer. I’m going to be making the main dish: hamburgers with plenty of relishes and toppings. The other couples are making the side dishes and desserts. I will not however be cooking the burgers on the beach, it’s not allowed. Instead I’m taking my electric grill on which I’ll cook them in my friend’s kitchen. The main course was chosen by one of my friend’s sons. They’re his favourite and so we’re going to indulge him but truly, who doesn’t love thick juicy hamburgers? I’m also going to try out another blondie brownie recipe (white chocolate and macadamia nuts) as you can never, ever have too many desserts. They’ll go well with my friend’s excellent Tiramisu which I’m assuming (and hoping) he’ll be making. Not quite what my nutritionist had in mind but I’ll limit my indulgence to a large spoonful. We’re rendezvousing on the beach in the late afternoon. I’m sensing, and knowing, that their two sons and our respective partners will be peckish so I may make a bowl of guacamole to keep their hunger pangs at bay until the arrival of the main event.

I’ve quite gotten into picnics since moving to France, they’re hugely popular and you can understand why. A baguette, a creamy, oozing slice of brie, some pate, cornichons, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh juicy peaches or cherries, a bottle of cold rose and you’ve got an impromptu feast fit for a king.  It’s not unknown for friends to gather on the beach in the evening with table and chairs and dish up a sumptuous feast while watching the sun slowly dissolve. We’ll be going for the picnic blanket and plenty of comfy cushions so that we can sun ourselves (we’ve all got tell tale silly cycling sun tan lines) and comfortably lounge while waiting for our feast to be prepared. Actually, it’ll be the boys doing the lounging while we do the preparing. Can’t even get them to do the washing up as all the flatware is disposable.

The BBQ’s not the only cooking on the horizon. After a few days next week at my parents, I’ll be looking forward to getting back into the kitchen. The Ronde, having been cancelled due to bad weather last week end, will now be held on 4 September. I won’t be there as we’re visiting friends and clients in  Italy. I’ll have a big baking session before my departure to replenish the cake stocks as those that did turn up on Sunday, around 60 riders, fortuitously ate all the cakes which had previously been in the freezer. I then froze those which had been freshly made. So I’m short of about 10 cakes. I’ve plenty of things in both my store cupboard and freezer with which I can be inventive and there’s an abundance of wonderful fruit in season. I just love marathon baking sessions, any excuse for trying out lots of new recipes. If you enjoy licking out the bowl, come on over.